An introduction to finding yourself through foraging from AoF member Sam Webster.
When I spot a comfy patch of moss in the woods. I lie on it, I find a river, my shoes are off and I paddle in it, and then walk home barefoot because I didn’t bring a towel. Foraging made me the person I am today. It has taught me more than just how to find food and how to feed myself, foraging has taught me how disconnected we humans are from the rest of the natural world.
Foraging is more than just finding food, medicine or materials. It’s about being aware we share our food with all the other living things that we also share the planet with. Like when you spot a hungry slug munching its way through a perfect porcini. If there are older porcini about, I often move the slugs to other less desirable specimens that I won't be taking home, after all they live a harder life than we do. Foraging is about knowing the weather; mushrooms grow after a few days after rain. This is because mushrooms grow through cell hydration, the more water they absorb the bigger they get. If you go out too early then they will be too small to pick, Flowers are sweeter on a hot sunny day because there are more pollinators about, so the flowers produce more food for them to entice them to come to their flower. This means we are in tune with the seasons, we notice the temperature changes, the length of days changing and the different foods that emerge with the seasonal changes. We notice migratory birds and animals hiding away for winter, this tells our body clock it’s time too for us to slow down for winter. When they return again in the spring, once it starts to warm up, it’s time for us to get excited for the new life spring brings. Being a forager, means excitement, I am constantly excited about all the many aspects of each season.
I believe in the plant world everything is talking to each other through the wood wide fungal web, sending messages to alert one another of changes or dangers around them. Animals have great senses, they can smell, see or hear if a predator is coming. For example, if you wander noisily through a wood, you won't see many animals. But if you sit still and quiet in a wood for long enough, you’ll notice, birds especially robins coming to see what you’re doing. I was once sat in Macclesfield Forest, quietly collecting wood sorrel, when two rutting stags were having a debate. I stayed very still until they got too close and then stood up, they immediately stopped fighting and legged it.
Listening to nature
It’s the norm is our western society to put thick pieces of rubber or plastic on our feet so we feel nothing from the ground. I actually hate wearing shoes and feel much more connected when I walk barefoot in my surroundings. We cover ourselves in overpowering chemical scents, which block out all other natural, wild, important smells. Since I stopped using perfume and scented cleaners my nose has become much more receptive to the smells out there. I can smell the rain coming, or smell a mushroom before I see it. We’re surrounded by noisy machines like cars, so we hear very little. I find it hard to find wild places where there isn't the sound of cars or aeroplanes in my fairly rural area of Cheshire. These droning noises block out the hammer of woodpeckers or calls of insects and birds. We don't notice the gentle song of the wind. These sounds are all around us all of the time and, if we are not careful, we are in danger of missing them. This is a shame as natural sounds are the most calming and relaxing sounds we can listen to. According to the mental health charity Mind time in nature can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and overall improve our mood. However, instead of embracing the calming noises of the natural world and all it can give us we can find ourselves blocking it out in order to listen to recorded meditation apps! I feel most connected with nature when I’m using as many senses as I can, so it helps to have my nose clear, my skin bare and my ears tuned into what the world is trying to tell me
This is why I love to spend time alone in quiet woods connected with my world. A world that has over 8 million other species out there, each being interacting with its neighbouring species, communicating, fighting, sharing, and listening to each other.
I don't know about you but, when I’m not foraging, I can feel really left out of the world I call home. We’ve just had a city break over the holidays, we’ve been to museums and parks etc and I've had less time to forage and explore the natural world. There's been very few green wild spaces, only manicured grass and a few trees surrounded by concrete. It's been loud with the drone of cars and chatter, there's lots of fumes and other man-made smells (though the restaurant smells were pretty good). Getting home I can feel it in my body and my mind, that I'm more tense and not as relaxed and calm. I miss my wild time. I long for the feeling I get from nature, the sense of calm and peace, feeling my heart rate slow, my muscles relax and the cloud of responsibilities and chores float away from my head space. I'm excited to get back to that world, to spot things, to smell things, hear things, feel things and taste things again.
I’d love to be able to understand the world like our ancestors did before we had modern technology, bury my ear in the ground and listen to what's going on, who is talking to who, which species are putting up a fight or sharing what they have with others. I’d draw the line at relying on stars to get me to places because satnav is easier to follow! But is this wrong, to navigate without really looking where we’re going, which way we're travelling, or without really noticing the natural landmarks just following a little arrow along a line on a screen.
We also look at the weather on our phones and tv but rarely look at the actual weather. Noticing changes of the seasons, why things thrive some years and not others, that a red sky at night means we will have dry weather and a red sky in the morning means that it’s going to be changeable. A simple pine cone will show if it’s going to rain soon, as they detect increased humidity caused by the incoming rain evaporating and dispersing in the local area. When the humidity increases water absorbs into the cone and it triggers the fibres to contract closing the cone. All these little acts or bits of knowledge is where the connection with nature comes from, even if it’s something as simple as knowing which way is north. Where you are… which way are you facing right now?
I don't think I would now be questioning how connected to nature I am if I had not become a forager, and for that reason I think foraging is one of the most important things in my life. I am now an ambassador for nature, I want to protect it, preserve it and watch it grow. I wish everyone could feel how I feel about nature because it's the best high you can get.